Weather, flats fishing heat up as February winds up

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Catherine Sheridan of Chicago shows off an over-slot seatrout she caught while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Capt. Jason Stock and brother Jeremy Stock lucked into a hot mangrove snapper bite offshore on a slick calm day Feb. 8 in 100-feet of water. The mangrove snapper hooked up on freelining baits on light tackle, which also produced yellowtail snapper and red grouper. Capt. Stock said the offshore fishery is “very productive right now.”

With near perfect weather settling in around Anna Maria Island, the fishing is sure to follow suit.

As for the final week of February, we are experiencing temperatures in the mid 80s, resulting in the perfect scenario for great springtime fishing — and it’s still winter.

The tail end of the sheepshead bite is going strong — but not for long. With the recent full moon, these fish are in mid-spawn and, once their spawn ends, they will disperse throughout our waters, making them much harder to target. But, that’s OK.

With water temps on the rise, fishing the flats is really heating up. Schools of white bait are slowly making a showing on the grass flats, which means it’s time to net bait again. Or you can just buy it from M&M Bait Co. at the Kingfish Boat Ramp.

Sooner than later it’s going to be necessary to have shiners in the bait tank if you plan to fish the flats successfully. Even now, with water temps in the high 60s to low 70s, shiners are working well for catch-and-release snook and redfish.

Spotted seatrout also are quickly responding to shiners. And, as a reminder, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission implemented a new rule as to size limit. You cannot harvest spotted seatrout over 20 inches in our region. The slot remains 15-20 inches and the bag limit remains at four fish per person per day. It’s probably best to let these “over 20-inch fish” go anyway, as they are spawning fish. They also are often riddled with worms.

Other spring inshore action includes pompano and whiting. These fish can be caught along the beaches of Anna Maria Island by casting live shrimp or sand fleas into the surf. While targeting these fish, you may encounter black drum or a bonnethead shark.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m finishing up the sheepshead bite before they spawn out. We’ve had quite a few 5-6 pound sheepies, as well as numerous fish in the 2-pound range. While targeting sheepshead, I’m noticing the welcome arrival of mangrove snapper. These guys are being caught more frequently and are averaging 12-14 inches, with some coming in at 18 inches. Dock fishing for redfish is pretty good, although, as the water temps rise, I’m noticing the reds are starting to disperse. I’m seeing a few black drum mixed in with the redfish bite, but they too are beginning to move on.

Fishing the flats for spotted seatrout is quite good. I’m putting my clients on many fish in the slot of 15-20 inches and quite a few over-slot fish, too. These fish are being caught on live shrimp under a popping cork.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore ledges and hard bottom for a variety of species. He’s setting up anglers with a bottom rig combined with a live shrimp and they’re attracting mangrove snapper, flounder, Key West grunts, porgies and sheepshead.

Moving inshore, Girle is baiting live shrimp, which is working well for sheepshead, black drum and catch-and-release redfish. To catch these species, Girle has anglers casting baits in canals among the docks and seawalls.

Lastly, drifting over deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay and casting soft plastics on a jig head is resulting in catches of spotted seatrout.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working nearshore structure with ledges and hard bottom. Key West grunts and mangrove snapper are abundant in these areas, which can result in excellent fishing, especially for those looking to host a fish fry. While in these areas, Lowman reports seeing large bait schools, which are attracting some kingfish.

Moving inshore, Lowman is targeting sheepshead around rocks and docks. In these same areas are black drum and catch-and-release redfish. When targeting fish over the grass flats, Lowman’s got his clients casting a jig to attract a successful bite from spotted seatrout and pompano.

Capt. Jason Stock is charging it offshore for a variety of fish. He reports large amberjack are being caught with regularity around wrecks and other structure. Live bait or artificials are working well to lure these hard-fighting fish to bite. Goliath grouper are lingering around the wrecks, and while they are catch-and-release, their size makes them for a thrill for anglers when they come bobbing to the surface from the depths. For those fishers in search of something to take home for dinner, Stock is catching mangrove snapper, porgies and Key West grunts.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working charters inshore for a variety of species. Using live shrimp as bait, White is putting anglers on sheepshead, black drum, pompano and catch-and-release redfish, mostly around docks and rocks. As for the pompano, casting jigs over deep grass flats or in the passes is working well. With the arrival of shiners, White is targeting snook on the flats. Casting these live baits is yielding many snook on a 4-hour charter.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing pier fishers reeling up numerous fish throughout the day. Those fishers opting to use live shrimp as bait are being rewarded with many sheepshead. Most sheepies are 1-2 pounds, although larger ones are being caught, too. Also, while using live shrimp, fishers are hooking up with black drum, a few snapper and some pompano.

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